Kaibab Journal

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Random Fragments

January - March 2009

Klaatu Goes PC

Clinton Home is Historic?

Dismantling Our Heritage

The Winter Side of Phantom

No Shingle Recession?

Sunday in Cathedral

Winter Access

Furlough Fantasies

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

   Klaatu Goes PCWe went to see the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still last week.  I give it three quarters of a star, but I'm not really sure why.  Maybe it was just the neat twist of the alien/s having landed years earlier and snatched some DNA to use to make a human that can be sent to us for the purpose of interaction.  Yeah, in the original, you have to believe that Michael Rennie was a human from another planet, as if that was the natural order of things.  Beyond that, there isn't anything about this movie to recommend.

     But, that is not why I am writing about this film.  Instead, my beef is that the film has stood the premise of the original on its head.  In the 1951 epic film, Klaatu has come to Earth to issue a warning to us not to take our fighting, now that we have nuclear capabilities, beyond our planet, which would threaten other worlds.  [Hmm, sounds a lot like the current Israel/Gaza conflict!]  Although he "came in peace," he was rude not to have called ahead - maybe then he wouldn't have gotten shot at!  Still, his character was supposed to be naive about the specifics of our culture and a big chunk of the film shows him getting to know us better.  His only demand was that he present his message to a diverse group that represented all the various peoples of the Earth.

     The new Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is, well, an idiot.  He is supposed to know all about us, and even seeks out another alien living among us for a report.  Yet, he doesn't seem to understand how to communicate with us.  Indeed, he doesn't really have a message to relay to us.  Instead, he is here to destroy us in order to "save the planet."  I guess you could say that he is a metaphor for environmental extremism.  If they hadn't played him so serious, but, instead, more delusional (or, even insidious, like the villain in the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace) then I might have given this movie a full star.

     After seeing the new version, I pulled out my DVD copy of the original and watched that, paying closer attention to the message of the film, because I was sure that it had been totally perverted by the remake.  And, that is certainly the case.  I jotted some of the key passages in Klaatu's final speech, which left me admiring that film even more:

"The threat of aggression . . . can no longer be tolerated.  There must be security for all, or no one is secure.  Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly."

"[The robots'] function is to . . . preserve the peace. . . At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor."

"The result is we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war.  Free to pursue more profitable enterprises."

"It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet."

     To my surprise, I have just discovered that Klaatu is a libertarian!  While the filmmakers were not trying to promote this kind of interpretation, it is the inescapable result of how they sought to operationalize their anti-war sentiments.  Here is what we get from the passages quoted above:

Limited government.  This interplanetary association has only one purpose - secure individual freedom from aggression.  That is pure Ayn Rand material.  There isn't any aid and assistance to us, to help in our dismantling of weapons.  There isn't any interplanetary definition of marriage.   There isn't any common currency standard.  Nothing but just the protection of the individual from force of violence.  You can't get any more libertarian than that.

The state doesn't regulate behavior.  They just don't care what we do, as long as we're not violent.  No social conventions to enforce.  No behavior to criminalize.  A libertarian's dream world!

Free enterprise is embraced.  I love the line about pursuing "more profitable enterprises."  It doesn't have to refer to making money, but it explicitly allows for that outcome.  And, the concept of free enterprise is really the expression of capitalism.  I doubt that many viewers would walk away from the movie thinking that Klaatu's message is that capitalism is best, but that's what he said.

A strict enforcement of property rights.  The notion that the robot police force has a simple mandate, and that it is carried out automatically, and, apparently, swiftly, means that property rights are pre-eminent in this system.

A de facto encouragement of economic growth.  Capitalism requires property rights, lest there is no trade, and relies on voluntary transactions.  The threat of force and violence deter these transactions, so their elimination would sow the seeds of dramatic economic growth and development.

     So, while the new, politically-correct, version of this movie is a stinker, turning Klaatu into a bullying socialist tyrant, the original version gets five stars from me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

   Clinton Home is Historic? - The Congress just passed a bill that sets aside millions of acres as federally protected wilderness.  And, this little tidbit - Bill Clinton's childhood home, which will get status as a "national historic site."  Such sites are administered by the National Park Service.  And, my question is, "Why does the taxpayer have to bear this burden?"  Bill Clinton makes millions giving speeches and writing books.  He can tap into many more millions from donations from others.  If he thinks that his boyhood home deserves special protected status, why doesn't he pony up the dough to make it so?

     Recognize the home on the right?  That is Mt. Vernon.  I'd like to think that everybody knows that this was George Washington's home, but education being what it is today, I can't be sure.  I visited here a few years ago and was quite pleasantly surprised to find out that it is operated and maintained strictly with private funds.  No taxpayer money is solicited, nor accepted.  As a consequence, the place is well preserved and it is made incredibly accessible to the public.

     Recognize the place on the left?  That is Meteor Crater, located about thirty-five miles from my home in Flagstaff, Arizona.  Like Mt. Vernon, it is also operated and maintained without taxpayer funds.  It was bought up by D. M. Barringer in 1903.  It has been preserved, used for research, and open to visitors.  Can anyone question the unique nature of such a place?  Need it be the taxpayer who supports the administration of this site?  Of course not.  Kept in private hands, it has been both preserved and enjoyed.

     It may well be that many of the items on the list of wilderness sites are worthwhile, but when something like Bill Clinton's home is included, even if the cost is relatively low, it stinks up the whole bill.  I guess we really can't expect any "change" from those greedy politicians that want someone else to pay for their toys and goodies.

Monday, January 19, 2009

   Dismantling Our Heritage - We went up to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for a day trip.  We had a few things we wanted to do.  More on that later.  While up at Powell Memorial, we were dismayed to see that the park service has finally gotten around to dismantling the headframe to the old Orphan Mine, shown to the right (click any photo to see a larger image), which is probably about fifty years old.  It is a sad commentary on the NPS, which extols the virtues of historic structures, but only as long as they think that these structures are worth preserving.  For years, they have also wanted to tear down the Thunderbird and Kachina Lodge.  Thankfully, that has not yet come to pass.

     So, why were we up at the canyon?  Many reasons . . .

Kolb Exhibit.  I wanted to see the exhibit at Kolb Studio on historic mapping of the Grand Canyon.  [Until 2/15/09, you can read more about this here - Mapping the Grand Canyon. Later, visit their archives to find out more on this exhibit.]  These exhibits usually last for many months, so I do have ample opportunities.  But, we missed out on this during our December backpacking trip to Phantom Ranch.  This day trip afforded us the time to really peruse this exhibit.  I give it 4.5 stars - alas, no copies of Walcott's maps from the early 1880s were included.  An oversight, in my humble opinion.  Also, it is interesting to note that when Emory Kolb died, the studio was turned into a bookstore for the Grand Canyon Association, ending its historic use in favor of something else that the NPS endorsed!

Drive new & improved Hermit Road.  I also wanted a chance to drive the newly reconstructed Hermit Road (aka, West Rim Drive), which runs the eight miles between the Bright Angel Lodge and Hermit's Rest.  The road had been in very poor shape for a number of years.  I think that the park service should have added a direct road from Hermit's Rest back to the South Rim Village, so that hikers could access the trail here year round, without having to rely on the awful shuttle service.  But, it was not to be.  The new road looks just like the old road, except it isn't crumbling nor wavy.  But, no wider than before!  No bike lanes!  And, parking for the 2+ months of its being open to the public is woefully inadequate.  The photo, to the right, shows parking at Powell Memorial, which is typical of the viewpoints along this road.  Wouldn't some angled parking here have doubled the available spaces at little additional cost?  Probably, but that's not the way the park service thinks.  But, there was one major improvement, which gets my full support.  The restrooms at Hermit's Rest have been totally redone.  Now, there are four little building (see photo), each with two units.  They are roomy and include hand sanitizer dispensers.  There are also some vending machines here (drinks and snacks) and a water fountain that works during the winter.  A vast improvement over the older facility, even though these are outhouses and not flush toilets.

Meal Ready to Eat - a field test.  We also used this opportunity to try out some MREs that Cara Lynn got from an old friend.  MREs are "meals ready to eat" and are used by the military.  I tried one at home, but those are rather ideal conditions.  [Even so, I mistakenly added a package of salt to my instant coffee.  Bleech!  All I can say is that it sure looked like a sugar packet.]  Cara Lynn had a chicken and noodles meal, while I had the beef enchilada.  Very good, with just a little bit of a learning curve on our part.  The meals heat up when some chemical pellets are activated by air and water.  Works well to generating a hot meal, although the staying power of the "heaters" is not enough to really get your hot drink up to speed.  Still, I am impressed with the quality and variety of items included.  A slight breeze caused us to make sure everything got tucked under something heavy.  You can see Cara Lynn's meal to the right.  Yes, it included the M&Ms.  I would say that they are a bit too heavy for backpacking purposes, but they were nice on this cold Saturday in January.  We ate at the picnic area by the Hermit trailhead, as did three other groups of visitors.  Too bad you can only drive out here in December, January and part of February.  You wouldn't expect the shuttle bus riders to haul out picnic supplies during the rest of the year.  So it goes.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

   The Winter Side Of Phantom - We went on a backpacking trip, just before Christmas, to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  I have just finished writing up a special trip report in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of my blog (The Winter Side of Phantom Ranch).  Earlier, I had written up a story that ran in the local paper (Grand Canyon in Winter), the Arizona Daily Sun.  That story ran about two weeks ago, so it still seems fresh to me.  As an added bonus, the story, along with the photo of Cara Lynn on the trail (the one to the right) ran on the front page, so it got lots of notice.  The first few lines from each piece appears below.  If they interest you, follow the links to the rest of the stories.  The blog story has lots of photos included, naturally.

The Winter Side of Phantom Ranch

     Hiking and backpacking in the winter isn't always that much fun.  It can be, but there are some drawbacks to such a trip.  Besides the cold, there are the long, dark nights.  It is not unusual to spend 12-13 hours zipped up in a sleeping bag, not exactly sleeping - doing a lot of tossing and turning.  And, wondering what time it is and how cold it is . . .     
click here to read more

Grand Canyon in Winter: Solitude, Scenery and Snow

     Thinking of Phantom Ranch, one is likely to conjure up images of extreme heat, with that little oasis at the bottom of Grand Canyon teeming with river runners, backpackers, day hikers and mule riders. You are likely to see lots of weary travelers cooling off on the banks of Bright Angel Creek along the quarter-mile between the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch.  At least that's what it's like during the peak summer months. During the winter, it can be quite a different story . . .    
click here to read more

Saturday, January 31, 2009

   No Shingle Recession? - We had two big winter storms this past December which left lots of snow piled on the roof of my home.  Not surprising, of course.  But, it was taking a long time to melt off, and in the front, which is north facing, about a half foot, or more, of ice had formed on the eave, which dripped down onto the walkway and iced up every day/night.  I have a heated line run through the gutter in the front, and that has stayed clear.  But, the slowly melting snow and ice on the roof was getting under the eave and dripping down into the area leading to the front door.  A few businesses around town suffered some roof cave-ins as a result of these icy conditions and the paper ran a story about the dangers of letting ice dams persist.

    So, I decided that I should clear the ice off of the roof above the front door.  To do so, I had to start shoveling snow off the roof in the back, clearing a section and letting it dry off before clearing another section.  It took me four days to work my way up to the peak and down the north side.  Although I tried to be careful, I still ended up nicking and tearing some shingles.  Well, the roof is 18-19 years old, and at the end of its designated life anyway, so that's bound to happen.  But, one icy spot in the front, which I tried to pry up, loosened up a couple of shingles sections and those had to be replaced.

     I really wanted a professional to do the repairs, so I called a firm that I used to replace some shingles that blew off the roof back in June of 2007.  Over the phone I was informed that they "don't do repairs anymore."  Hmm, I wondered, even with a recession well underway, they must be lucky to be able to just give away this part of their business.  So, I called another firm.  I got an answering machine, so left my name and phone number.  A few hours later, not having heard any reply, I decided to call another firm, and left a message with the answering service.  That was on Monday, January 19th.  Granted, that is a holiday, but these firms are owner-operators, and there is a recession going on, so I figured that they were probably working that day.  Doesn't that make sense?

     Well, no reply on Monday, nor on Tuesday, and the weather forecast called for some rain/snow on Thursday.  So, Tuesday night I did some web research on replacing shingles - not too hard, but I had to buy all the tools necessary for the job, save a hammer!  And, on Wednesday morning, I was off to the Home Depot to get what I needed.  I had high hopes of being able to match the shingles pretty well, but was sorely disappointed.  For such a large store, they only had two colors of the 3-tab shingles I needed and one was white.  So, I got the other color (sage) and the tools I needed and did the repairs myself.  [Click on either photo to see a larger image.]  Not bad for a do-it-yourself job.  Besides the big spot, where I replaced two shingle sheets, I also had to replace a piece on the peak of the roof and I did some sealant repairs in about ten places around the roof.

     I did have one snag along the way.  The instructions called for popping the nails out of the existing shingles in order to remove them.  OK, but the first one I pried up didn't have any nails!  I looked quite hard, but nothing here.  So, I pried up the shingle under this one and felt the other shingle pop.  When I looked, I found that the shingles were not held in place with nails, but, rather, with staples.  Aha, I thought, that's why I found about twenty staples on the other side of the roof, where the blown away shingles had been replaced - the guy that fixed the roof left the staples just laying around a year and a half ago!

     Ten days have passed since then, and I still haven't received a call back from the two places I tried to get in touch with.  All I can figure is that their business model requires that they don't care about a potential customer unless that customer calls at least twice.  But, I thought there was a recession going on, and these guys certainly are not putting new roofs on new homes, since nobody is building new homes!  As an additional point of irony here, I have just been telling my students in Money & Banking that during economic downturns there is an increase in do-it-yourself activities as people try to cut corners.  But, now I'm wondering if there isn't more D-I-Y because nobody else wants to work?

Monday, February 2, 2009

   Sunday in Cathedral - It is Super Bowl Sunday and the Arizona Cardinals are in it for the first time ever.  But, the weather is beautiful around here - crystal clear skies and temps in the mid-50s.  So, despite the allure of hot wings, beer and endless hours of pre-game hoopla, there was plenty of time for me to take a neat little hike in the upper reaches of the Grand Canyon . . . 

Read the full story:
Day Hike Down Cathedral Wash - Getting
to the river near Lees Ferry

in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of the Kaibab Journal

Saturday, February 28, 2009

   Winter Access - It is getting close to spring break and my thoughts have been turning more and more to the hike I have planned - nine days from Crazy Jug Canyon to the South Rim Village at Grand Canyon.  Only on the final day will we (three others have agreed to come along for this hike) be on a formal trail.  I had planned this same hike in 2008, but the snow along the access roads kept me from reaching the trailhead in time to insure that I could complete this hike . . .

Read the full story:
Winter Access to the North Rim:  Following FR22, FR423, FR427 & FR425 to Crazy Jug
in the Hiking Grand Canyon section of the Kaibab Journal

Thursday, March 12, 2009

   Furlough Fantasies - The budget crisis is everywhere.  Here, the legislature has been looking to cut funding at the three state universities, including NAU.  As best I can tell, the administration is looking to cut about 20% from the budget, this year or next year, or both.  So it goes.

     There was an effort by the President's office to snag funds from a variety of sources on campus (sort of like rounding up the usual suspects in Casablanca).  But, soon, the talk turned to "furloughs."  And, that got my dander up.  Not because I don't understand that we have to cut somewhere, but, rather, because it is just a gimmick to accomplish pay cuts without saying that there are pay cuts.  That is the way government works (but, a private firm that tried the same tactic would likely get hauled up before some Congressional committee and slandered ad nauseam).  So, in the spirit of trying to help them get it right, I wrote this letter, which ran in the paper on Friday, February 27.

To the editor:

In an industrial setting, the use of a furlough to reduce production and costs may be sensible.  In the university setting it is both an exercise in doublespeak, since classes will not be canceled, and inefficient, which is probably not entirely surprising.

What would be efficient?  A tax is the most honest and straightforward solution.  Call it the “Employment Privilege Surcharge” and tack it onto the paychecks of university employees.  Here are some advantages:

*  Unlike furloughs, the tax can be fine-tuned to accomplish the cost reduction necessary.  It doesn’t matter to the payroll computer program if the tax is 4% or 4.223% or 3.78%.

*  The tax will spread out the negative impact to employees evenly over the rest of the contract year, versus the impact of having to take a furlough day, or two, or three, in one single pay period.

*  The tax can be graduated so that there aren’t any exceptions to who must share in the pain.  Punishing only highly valued, and highly paid, employees is a morally bankrupt policy.

*  The tax doesn’t require any bizarre soviet-style planning process to identify and administer make-believe furlough days.

I don’t want to have my income taxed, but the reality is what it is.  University administrators can ask that the pain be shared as long as they continue to honor their commitment to discharge a wide array of unsustainable programs whose continued financial support saps the vitality of healthy and productive academic units.

     The responses on the web fell into two broad categories - those that didn't understand the issue that the furlough was just a pretend arrangement and those that felt unduly snubbed by their being low wage earners.  Which means they haven't grasped the meaning of the golden goose fable.  I penned a response, as follows:

I apologize if the issue is less clear than it should be.  The university administration is asking faculty to take furlough days, hence cutting their/our pay.  But, the work requirements – classes taught, evaluations crafted and scored, students advised, and research pursued – is unchanged.  Calling it a furlough is disingenuous.  A furlough applies to someone who doesn’t show up for work and loses a day’s pay.  They lose the income, but they gain something in return – a day off.  In the case of faculty, we really aren’t hourly workers; we’re salaried workers.  We have a job to do, and we use the time available to do the job.  It doesn’t have to be just Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 5 pm.  If it was, we could be furloughed for a day and not show up to work.  But, for us, the furlough is just a trick.  Interestingly, if a business tried this, they would get their hats handed to them.

But, the furlough idea is worse than false.  It is also costly.  Somehow, a furlough schedule will have to be established.  Somehow, a “no work” policy will have to be enforced for the furlough day.  Somehow, these furlough days will have to be spread out so that you don’t have all these cuts in a single paycheck.

My argument is that if the point is to pay us less, without any reduction in our work expectations, then just do the simple thing and tax us.  Why is that rocket science?  It is easy to implement, it doesn’t have any enforcement costs, and it doesn’t generate volatility in paychecks.  I understand that the university is getting less funding.  I understand that more will be asked and less will be given.  Why not just be honest and upfront about it, instead of playing games with this idea of a furlough?

     I haven't heard anything through the grapevine about whether this idea is being taken seriously by the administration.  As Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "So it goes."

The Kaibab Journal